Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Are We Robbing Our Children of Creativity?

If you have a child in grade school then you probably know all about state and standardized testing. Every spring grades 3 to 8 are subject to these rigorous exams. The results are used to determine how well a child has mastered skills and content in a variety of subjects. The state also uses these results to develop and improve curriculum as well as be able to give assistance to children who need additional support. Sounds great, right? The problem with some of these tests are the way teachers are preparing students. Good results matter to the teacher, principal, school, district and state. What school doesn't want their students to get great results? The better they look, the more students they attract and the more funding they get.

But high test scores don't always equate to a well-rounded education.

I'm going to talk briefly about ELA or English Language Arts, and more specifically about essay writing. Teachers are programmed to teach in a very specific formulaic way because that's what the assessors are looking for. Unfortunately, it has nothing to do with real essay writing.

The following, from my son's school, is a shortened list of teachers' requirements to get a good essay grade:

  1. An essay must have five paragraphs.
  2. You must use transition words to go from each paragraph, such as; first, second, third, then.
  3. The introduction must state the main idea and three supporting facts.
  4. The conclusion must say what the intro says.
  5. Supporting sentences must use descriptive adjectives.

And the list goes on...

Remember, teachers are teaching this style primarily because of standardized testing, but it doesn't prepare students for the real world of writing. All that this formulaic style is managing to do is prevent students from excelling at writing. They end up detesting writing essays...and who wouldn't? Quite frankly, it's monotonous and completely uncreative!

My son loved to write when he was in first grade. He actually began to write a novel and completed a few chapters. It was about a hamster, kind of like a superhero who was a commander of a ship. It was actually a really fun read and cute! Back then he had a lot of passion for writing. Now when he needs to write essays he hates it; he's completely fixated on the number of paragraphs, his use of transitional words, making sure his conclusion states what his intro states … urgh! This isn't the way to instill creativity in our children.

Don't believe me? Just go to any website and search for Best Essays. None of these follow the insidious formula taught in public schools. In fact, some universities require an essay from their applicants as part of the admission process. One university I found, ranked 13 in the US, had their best applicants' essays posted on their website; none of the half dozen I read came close to following the formula. Had these essays been graded by assessors in a state test, those students probably would've flunked! But by gosh they were wonderful, creative, worthy of being published and those students were accepted into one of the top colleges.

I realize the purpose of teaching a formulaic style is to set up a solid groundwork so eventually it can be built upon. That's not what irritates me - it's the narrow-mindedness; if a child writes a great, creative essay, but doesn't adhere to “the formula”, they won't get a good grade. It's for that reason that standardized testing kills the creativity in our children.


Photo: Wikipedia


  1. I wholeheartedly agree. It is extremely difficult to test a child's creativity and to thrive in today's world one must excel at creative problem solving. So why are our schools still testing and teaching linear, algorithmic methods?

    1. Cathy, I don't have an answer to the problem. Quite frankly, that's why I've looked into private schools because they don't, or at least the one I looked into, do state testing. The other option is your way - homeschooling. That way you can be sure that your kids get as much control over their creativity. Most kids are going to have to "unlearn" what they've been taught all these years in school once they get into the real world of writing.